Charges possible in death of 2-year-old left in Gatlinburg car

July 18, 2017: Gatlinburg Police are still investigating the death of a 2-year-old officials suspect was left in a hot car overnight.

SEVIER COUNTY - A 2-year-old child has died after being left in a vehicle overnight in Gatlinburg last week.

According to the Gatlinburg Police Department, the child was found dead on Friday around 1:57 p.m. in a car on Laurel Avenue. Police believe the child had been in the car since Thursday night. 

Gatlinburg Police Chief Randall Brackins said the parents were Gatlinburg residents who were renting a house on that street. 

"They were upset," Brackins said. "They were just, you know, in shock, didn't know what to do." 

No charges have been filed, but the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Gatlinburg Police Department have launched an investigation into the incident.

"They're going back now, trying to investigate to see what was happening and why it occurred and trying to make a determination as to why the child was left in the car," Brackins added.

The investigation will continue and pending charges will be determined through investigative efforts of the TBI and GPD as well as the Sevier County District Attorney's Office. 

Once the police investigation is complete, Sevier County District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said they will proceed accordingly. He added he is waiting for lab results in the case.

Criminal attorney Don Bosch said the parents of the two-year-old will likely be charged.

"A 2-year-old child was left locked in a vehicle for at least 12 and maybe as much as 24 hours, I think it would be easy for the state to charge at least aggravated child neglect if not aggravated child abuse as well," Bosch, an Inside Tennessee panelist, explained.

The aggravated child abuse and neglect charge is a felony, therefore Bosch said, because the child died felony murder charges could also be on the table.

"It's not a legal stretch for a state DA to charge felony murder under these facts as we understand them today. Remember this is an active investigation and we don't know all the facts yet," he said.

Either way, Bosch said if charged and convicted, the punishments are very stringent.

"Understand under Tennessee law, aggravated child abuse or neglect when the child is under the age of 8 carries 15-25 years at 100 percent in a state penitentiary. So it in itself is a serious crime," he said.

Felony murder carries a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

The Gatlinburg toddler death comes just one week after a Good Samaritan rescued a Sevierville infant from a hot car by calling 911.  The mother in that case was charged with child abuse.

Earlier this month, a Chattanooga baby died in a hot car. The father was charged with criminal homicide and child abuse, and the mother was charged with child abuse.

As temperatures continue to climb in the summer heat, Brackins said he hopes parents put their children first.

MORE: Preventing child and pet hot car deaths

WATCH: How hot does it get inside a locked car on a warm day? 

"If you're with you're kids and it's hot weather, you know, take care of them," Brackins said. "Make them your first priority."  

© 2017 WBIR.COM


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